Editor's note: schools are closed due to the spread of the coronavirus. This story was written prior to school closures.
Through cheers and raps, Prairie Queen Elementary fifth-grade teacher Elizabeth Lyle is showing her class to love learning, themselves and how to work as a team.
Throughout the day, Lyle and her class utilize a variety of fun cheers aimed at giving instructions, grabbing their attention or simply raising their spirits. For example, to have small-group discussions, Lyle claps and yells “discuss” to which the class claps and yells “OK.”
A class favorite, Lyle said, is the “Yo Mama” cheer where Lyle asks “Who let the dogs out?” and the class says, “Yo, yo, your mama.”
“I really think it brings us together as a team on a different level,” Lyle said. “It’s just part of being a team together. When you have oneness of doing something, it allows you to be closer.”
One huge benefit of the cheers, Lyle said, is getting her class back on track.
“The cheers give them time to process what’s going on and to be ready when it’s time to be ready,” she said.
At the beginning of the year, Lyle told her students that in order to have fun, they needed to work hard and with that, another cheer was born. “Play when it’s time to play, work when it’s time to work and focus when it’s time to focus.”
“That’s the theme this year,” she said. “We can play hard, but we have to work hard.”
Lyle also incorporates music into her lessons as a way to help with memorization while making it more entertaining. Her latest hit was a rap about text structure set to the beat of “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice.
“It was effective to do something different so they can own that learning and reproduce it,” Lyle said.
Students enjoyed it so much that she often hears them singing it at recess or lunch.
“It allows them to be creative and use different modalities to learn and to gain things,” she said. “It allows them to know that learning can be fun and it can be adapted to make it individual and that they can feel a part of it.”
In addition to cheers and songs, Lyle also teaches her students how to “speak like scholars.”
For that, Lyle proposes a thought-provoking question and allows her students to take charge of the conversation. Instead of raising their hands, the class converses by building on each others’ comments and asking their peers follow-up questions.
“It brings their confidence up,” she said. “It allows them that real world experience. In life, you don’t often find yourself raising your hand.”
When a student is speaking, the rest of the class is encouraged to use sign language for “agree,” “disagree” and “add-on,” to avoid interruption while still voicing their opinions.
If a student signs “add on,” they are allowed to comment on the previous students’ comment or ask questions.
Using this tactic, Lyle said, has helped her students speak confidently. And when they do, she is so proud that sometimes, she does cartwheels and handstands.
“I want them to feel proud of themselves in a day and age where there is a lot of negativity,” Lyle said. “I’m just proud of them and they are going to go places, amazing places. It’s a joy to be a small part of that.”
At the end of each day, Lyle says, “I love you and make good choices,” to each of her students.
And not every day, but often, Lyle asks her students one more question before the final bell rings. “Who loves you?” she asks and her students respond “You do.”
“When they leave my classroom, they know they are loved and valued and important,” Lyle said. “They have a lot going on emotionally and mentally so if my classroom can be a safe, fun place when they can attempt, fail, learn, be confident, have high self esteem, that’s important.”